Moving Beyond Exclusivity and Marriage
How we traditionally show commitment in a relationship
For decades, the default way of showing commitment has been through exclusivity and marriage.
That "proves" your commitment to a romantic relationship. The expectation is typically that if you are in a committed relationship, you are exclusive with your partner and plan on getting married at some point.
However, this traditional model of commitment isn’t the only option anymore, and truthfully, it may not work for everyone.
As more people challenge traditional relationship norms, it's time to explore what commitment means beyond the traditional boundaries of exclusivity and marriage.
Stay with me as I delve into the various ways to show commitment in modern relationships and why it's important to redefine commitment for ourselves.
So, if you've ever questioned the "one size fits all" model of commitment, keep reading to discover new ways of approaching and understanding commitment in a relationship.
Sexual & Emotional Exclusivity
Exclusivity has long been considered a hallmark of commitment in a romantic relationship.
The idea that being with someone means sacrificing the possibility of intimacy with anyone else is deeply ingrained in our cultural psyche. Choosing not to be intimate with anyone else is often the sacrifice we offer and expect from our partner.
This practice can provide a sense of control and security in the relationship, but it can also carry an unhealthy element of possession. The idea of "I am yours and you are mine" can lead to possessive behaviour and jealousy, which can ultimately damage the relationship.
That’s probably not what you’re going for right?
Is exclusivity the best way to show your dedication to the relationship?
In redefining relationship commitment for ourselves, I invite you to question whether exclusivity is truly necessary to define your dedication to your partner.
While some people may find exclusivity to be an important aspect of their relationship, others may not. For some, the idea of being sexually and emotionally exclusive to one person may feel limiting or even suffocating.
Instead, they may prioritise open communication, mutual respect, and honesty as key components of commitment. There’s no right or wrong here.
Authenticity & Honesty
It's important to remember that redefining commitment for ourselves allows us to approach relationships with a greater sense of authenticity and honesty.
Rather than subscribing to societal expectations and norms, we can create relationships that truly align with our personal values and desires.
By choosing what commitments in a relationship matter most to us, we can prioritise emotional and physical intimacy, shared experiences, or other values that align with our personal definitions of commitment.
So, if exclusivity doesn't resonate with you, consider what other elements of commitment do. Is it vulnerability, trust, communication, or something else entirely?
Redefining commitment allows us to create relationships that are fulfilling, meaningful, and aligned with our personal values.
The evolution of marriage
The next big show of commitment in a relationship is moving in together and getting married. Did you know that there’s evidence of formal marriage ceremonies dating back as far as 2350 BCE in ancient Mesopotamia?
However, the institution of marriage has evolved over time and is changing in modern times too. In Western societies, marriage became tied to religion and the church and became seen as the ultimate show of commitment in a romantic relationship.
So while marriage, and monogamy too for that matter, have been a part of human society for centuries, the reasons for them have evolved over time.
As we discuss redefining commitment in our relationships, I think it’s important to remember the role it played in the past. We can use that understanding to help us be more intentional about the role marriage plays in our own modern lives.
Marriage for status
In the past, marriage was often more of a practical arrangement used to secure financial stability or political power. Think Cersei or Sansa in Game of Thrones. Love and personal fulfilment were not always the main factors driving people to get married.
Over time the purpose of marriage has shifted, and today as I’m sure you’ve noticed, many people choose to get married for love, companionship and to solidify their commitment.
Marriage as a social construct
It's important to recognise that while marriage is a long-standing institution, it is also a social construct that has changed over time and varies between cultures.
This means that the expectations and norms surrounding marriage are not set in stone and can be redefined and reshaped to fit our modern understanding of relationships.
By acknowledging that marriage is a social construct, we can begin to question and challenge the traditional expectations and norms that may no longer serve us or our relationships.
Let’s bring it back to the present. In recent years, fewer people are choosing to get married. This is happening all over the world but let’s take a look at Australia for a moment.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, while there were 89,164 marriages registered in 2021, which is 12.9% higher than in 2020 (78,989), it is still 21.7% lower than in 2019 (113,815)*.
There are of course many reasons for this decline, many of which you probably resonate with. The reasons include changing social attitudes towards marriage, a desire for greater independence, and a shift towards other forms of commitment that don’t require a legal contract.
For example, many couples are choosing to live together without getting married, which has become increasingly common in Australia.
Despite these changes, marriage remains an important institution in many societies and for many individuals. It continues to be seen as a way to formalise a committed relationship and to provide legal and financial protection.
Nonetheless, I believe that the way people approach marriage is changing and will continue to do so in the years to come.
Other ways to show commitment in a relationship
What are some other ways of showing your commitment to your partner that better reflect your values and our current society?
We have so much more choice and freedom today. We can choose not to have children, or not get married for example. We are in most cases safe to choose who we get intimate with, when and why.
So isn't it also safe to loosen the reigns a little?
What if you showed commitment by trusting each other and relinquishing some control?
For example, by supporting each other in having a life separate from the relationship. This might seem counterintuitive, but hear me out.
As much as you love being with each other and doing things together, you are still individual beings. Try showing your partner you trust them by encouraging them to go out without you as well.
I genuinely enjoy helping my partner get ready for a night out without me.
Being part of the getting ready process makes me feel involved and makes them feel loved and supported. While they're out, I use the time to meet my own needs with quality introvert time and self-care.
At the end of the night, we come together again and reconnect. Both of us are super happy to have done our own thing and enjoy being back with each other again. Lots of smushy cuddles ensue.
Stability & Security
I've come to appreciate that commitment in a relationship doesn't have to go hand in hand with exclusivity or sacrifice. What I'm personally really looking for is stability and security.
Consistent actions from a partner and clear expectations can give me that.
You might discover that deep down you’re seeking a similar feeling of security or stability.
Clarify & Communicate
The takeaway here is… communicate! Big surprise, right?
Clarify what each of your current needs and desires are, and communicate them on an ongoing basis.
That way you can show your commitment and love in ways that make sense for your unique relationship.
My own redefinition of commitment centres around respecting each other's autonomy and building a relationship based on mutual trust and love.
How will you redefine commitment in your relationship?
BONUS TIP - Talk about any expectations you have of the future too, at least to the best of your knowledge and ability. I dive more into this in my other blog post that I think you’ll enjoy: 5 ways to make your relationship even better
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2021). Marriages and Divorces, Australia. ABS. https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/people/people-and-communities/marriages-and-divorces-australia/latest-release.